Friday, April 18, 2008

Long-term Navy woes

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen reports:
Canada's naval capabilities will start diminishing in the next several years and will be severely reduced after the turn of the decade, limiting the military's ability to conduct maritime operations at home and abroad, an assessment by the head of the navy says.

The capacity of the navy's fleet will likely be reduced by one-half as the service modernizes its aging frigates, docking some while upgrades are under way, and mothballing its 40-year-old Iroquois-class destroyers, according to the strategic assessment prepared by Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson.

That, in turn, will create a period starting around 2013 and ending in 2018 when there will be an overlap between taking old ships out of the water and not having new vessels to replace them. During that period, the navy will be limited in what it will be able to do, according to the assessment, which was leaked to the Citizen.

"Even the most expeditious procurement strategy is unlikely to deliver their replacements before we are compelled to retire the last of the three destroyers," the assessment notes. "Without both the air defence and command capabilities these ships provide, Canada will not be able to safely operate a Task Group in contested waters -- the key capability that provides to Canada the capacity for sovereign and independent action at sea, either at home or abroad [how likely are we to operate an independent task group abroad? - MC], and from which derives the ability to lead international coalition or alliance operations."

The documents point out that an $8.5-billion plan to build new destroyers has to be approved by the fall, and even then the new ships won't be in the water and available for operations for another 10 years [actually not destroyers, but a "Single Class Surface Combatant" to replace both the frigates and destroyers, as Mr Pugliese notes at this post--see also penultimate listing here; more on the SCSC at the Update here].

The Iroquois-class vessels are particularly important to the navy since they are outfitted with command and communications systems that allow them to direct other ships on operations. They also provide protection for other vessels from aerial attack...

It can take between 10 and 15 years for a new fleet to be designed and constructed. The assessment points out that the navy's capabilities to conceive, design and build a future maritime force have dwindled over the years.

Defence analysts say most of the recent investments in new equipment have been for the army and air force, but work is also under way on purchasing new supply ships and the groundwork is being set for the modernization of the frigates [details on the program here, with some informed comment here].

The federal government has also announced it will purchase a new fleet of Arctic patrol ships, but construction of those vessels is still years away. No decision has been made on whether to proceed with replacing the destroyers...

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny said the navy and air force assessments showed the Conservative government had dropped the ball on properly funding the Canadian Forces...
It is perhaps telling that this section of DND's 2008-09 Report on Plans and Priorities, "Generate and Sustain Forces Capable of Maritime Effects", is rather shorter than the equivalent sections for the Army and Air Force.

The Senator has been speaking what I think, in broad terms, is the simple truth for some time. This is from June 2006:
Senator Colin Kenny, the Liberal chairman of the defence committee, says the annual defence budget - which is projected to hit $20.3 billion by 2010-11 - should be $25 billion to $35 billion. "Probably closer to $35 billion."
Without such a serious expansion in defence spending will Canada be able to maintain an effective blue water Navy?


Post a Comment

<< Home